20-02-2005

In this week's edition: International Mother Language Day, Radio Prague's listeners of Czech descent, new Greenpeace TV spot. Listeners quoted: Ashik Eqbal Tokon and Mostafa Kamal from Bangladesh; Mark Zubik, USA; Pavlina Vanis, Australia; Paul Kail, Czech Republic.

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague's Mailbox programme. Today we start with a letter from Ashik Eqbal Tokon from Bangladesh:

"Greetings from Bangladesh, the land of International Mother Language day. February 21st is a red letter day in the history of Bangladesh. In 1952, our brothers gave their blood on behalf of our mother language. A few years ago UNESCO announced 21 February as the International Mother Language Day. I believe every nation loves its own mother language, even you too. So why not a little coverage on that occasion?"

A similar letter also arrived from Mr Tokon's compatriot, Mostofa Kamal.

International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1999, has been observed since February 2000. The aim is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism. According to some estimates, there are close to 6000 languages spoken in the world today.

The mother tongue for the majority of citizens of the Czech Republic is, not surprisingly, Czech - but our ancestors also shed blood and fought many battles to preserve this language.

The first Slavic tribes to settle these parts are thought to have arrived in the 6th century AD. They spoke a form of Slavic language that gradually developed into a language of both culture and administration in the Czech Kingdom. After the Habsburgs came to the Czech throne, Czech, as a written language, started going into decline as German became the language of the elite - a process which culminated with the centralisation of the Habsburg Monarchy in the second half of the 18th century.

However, as a result of the National Revival movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, Czech regained its position in national culture and science. The status of the language was confirmed with the foundation of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. During the Nazi occupation, German again became the official language, but after the war Czech and Slovak were restored as Czechoslovakia's two official languages.

So happy International Mother Language Day to all of our listeners around the world who commemorate it.

Radio Prague has many listeners who grew up speaking Czech as a mother tongue - or whose parents or grandparents did - but no longer speak it.

Such as Mark Zubik from Texas:

"The political and technological changes of the last decade have reopened a door closed for many years. My grandparents immigrated to Texas in the early years of the 20th century. I spent my childhood wondering about this place and its people, and the details of my family. Except for the events of the Prague Spring, very little ever found its way here into the news. It was a mysterious place. My principal reason for this email is to thank you for the fine program and wish for many more years of quality broadcasting."

Thank you very much for those nice words, Mr Zubik. Similarly, Pavlina Vanis from Australia writes:

"I am just writing to let you know that I have just found your website and how much I am enjoying it. As I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1965 and have been living in Australia for the last 32 years, just reading some of the articles is very interesting. Thank you."

While one part of our audience is composed of people of Czech origin — living all over the world — another is English-speaking people of varied backgrounds living in the Czech Republic, temporarily or permanently. One of them, Dr Paul Kail, from Prague, sent us this e-mail in response to our report on a new TV spot launched in the Czech Republic by Greenpeace, which shows the country as a wasteland with contaminated rivers, soil and air.

"It is wonderful to hear that Greenpeace has the courage and resources to advertise the appalling environmental record of the Czech Republic. It is not at all surprising that the politicians who are responsible for this mess don't want the adverts to be aired. What is less understandable, though, is why they feel the adverts would affect people's perception of the Czech Republic. Presumably they are only going to be seen in this country. On the other hand, the advert which the Czech government itself commissioned, which suggested that the Czech Republic is some kind of remnant from the Middle Ages with no cars or factories, was so ridiculous that it probably created more harm than good."

It is true that the Czech Republic with its per capita greenhouse gas emissions is among the worst world pollutants but also the country has come a long way since the fall of the communist regime. It placed a lot of emphasis on heavy industry and much of the harm done to nature is a legacy of this country's industrial history. Nevertheless, there are many areas with pristine nature, clean streams and lush forests.

 

But we are almost out of time now, so I will read Radio Prague's competition question for the month of February:

"What is today the 6th tallest building in the Czech Republic was before the Second World War the tallest building in Czechoslovakia, with its 17 floors and 77.5 metres. It was built in 1938, as an administrative building for a shoe making company that had outlets in many corners of the world and a total of 67,000 employees around the world. The son of the founder and now retired head of the family-run business turned 90 last September having lived mostly in Canada for much of his life. We'd like you to tell us his name." (It happens to be the same as the name of the founder of the shoe making company.)

You have another week to send your answers to the usual address: Radio Prague, 12099 Prague or English@radio.cz. There is a CD of Czech music for the lucky winner.

20-02-2005